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Healthy delicious Indian food rooted in cookbook author's Punjabi roots

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Bal Arneson grew up in a small village in Punjab, Northern India. It was there she learned to prepare the healthy contemporary Indian dishes that are the backbone of her first book, "Everyday Indian: 100 Fast, Fresh and Healthy Recipes" (Whitecap).

"Indian food tends to be healthier in the villages, but not in the cities," says the mother of two who lives in Coquitlam, B.C., with her husband Brad whom she met while hiking after emigrating to Canada at age 20.

Arneson says that the richer ingredients of cream and butter used by those living in India's cities has contributed to skyrocketing cases of diabetes and heart disease.

"My philosophy coming from a poor village family is that eating healthier organic food and cooking with mustard seed and flaxseed oils are something I share when I give cooking classes."

Also, she says, Indian food is perceived as taking long hours to prepare with many spices, but her approach is different.

"Eating well doesn't mean we need to spend hours each day in the kitchen," she says. "And I also believe we need to make conscious decisions about what goes into our bodies."

Arneson says a few small changes, such as using whole grains, brown rice and low-fat yogurt in place of cream, "can make a great difference to our overall well-being."

Her book takes the mystery out of what she calls the Masala Cabinet - her list of those spices that together or alone can make Indian food uniquely individual to every palate.

Arneson uses garam masala, a mixture of dried spices typically used in the northern part of India where she grew up, almost exclusively for cooking everyday Indian food. The other is turmeric, a root that's related to ginger.

Here is her recipe for garam masala.

Garam Masala

125 ml ( 1/2 cup) coriander seeds

125 ml ( 1/2 cup) cumin seeds

50 ml ( 1/4 cup) dried curry leaves

50 ml ( 1/4 cup) black peppercorns

3 whole cloves

2 black cardamom pods

2 cinnamon sticks, each 7.5 cm (3 inches) long

2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 160 C (325 F).

Combine all ingredients, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Let cool and process to a fine powder in a grinder such as a coffee grinder reserved for this purpose.

Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 3 months.

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